Congressman Roger Williams, Unprecedented Threats, and The Consequence of Military Waste
The word “unprecedented” means without precedent. Something unprecedented is totally new. Nothing has like it has ever taken place before.
So, it was alarming when U.S. Representative Roger Williams, a Republican from Texas, told a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense this week that, “Our country is facing unprecedented threats here at home and abroad from radical Islamic terrorists, Russia, North Korea and China to name a few. As you make the difficult funding decisions for the FY18 Department of Defense Appropriations bill, it is my hope that you ensure we have the strongest and most effective military to keep our country safe.” The solution to the unprecedented problem, Williams said, is to increase spending on military projects.
This idea is embraced by more senior Republican congressional leaders and by the President, Donald Trump, but does it make sense?
Is the premise, that the United States is facing unprecedented threats from terrorists, Russia, North Korea and China, factually true?
Current threats from terrorists are not unprecedented. Threatening people is something that terrorists have done for a long, long time. The threats of violence currently made by terrorists are with precedent, and precedent teaches that terrorists usually do not follow through on their threats. Actual terrorism in the United States is now at extremely low levels. There have been zero deaths in the United States from terrorism this year.
Current threats from North Korea are not without precedent. The government of North Korea has been playing games of bluff with nuclear brinksmanship for decades. Making threats seems to take up the largest portion of North Korea’s foreign policy.
Current threats from China and Russia are likewise not without precedent – with one notable exception. We aren’t on the verge of war with either country, and their military power is along the line of what it has been for many, many years.
The only unprecedented threat from China and Russia is that of hacking. Under the direction of dictator Vladimir Putin, Russian cyberattacks altered the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, placing Donald Trump in the White House. There is no precedent for that in American history.
So, the premise put forward by Congressman Roger Williams is mostly wrong, with the small exception of cyberattacks.
Is the conclusion, that the United States must increase spending on military projects, logically sound?
The only unprecedented threat from foreign sources that the United States is facing right now comes in the form of cyberattacks. Having a big military doesn’t defend the United States against cyberattacks. Expensive F-35 fighter jets can’t stop hackers.
Furthermore, the precedent of increasing military spending during the Cold War should give us great pause. Many historians argue that what destroyed the Soviet Union was excessive spending on military spending, neglecting domestic economic needs.
Roger Williams is suggesting that the United States follow the same course.
Massive military waste is itself a serious threat to the United States, and it’s one with an alarming precedent that Roger Williams and other Republican politicians are refusing to address.